Bassoon Fingerings

In the bassoon world, each note has its own alternate fingering. I, like many bassoonists, have my own set that constantly changes every time I make a new reed, meet a new bassoonist or have to play on a new instrument. More and more these days, though, the palate of alternate fingerings has narrowed down with "cookie-cutter" made bassoons constructed out of recycled trash bags (exact down to the last millimeter!). But, in regards to bassoons that are made of  wood, alternate fingerings are a must in the professional world and should be introduced to all students as soon as he can be judge "competent."

I use alternate fingerings primarily on notes that are extended for more than 3/4 of a second long or when I need technical advantage. Although the "technical advantage" fingerings usually sound out of tune or tone, they help me play passages that are almost ridiculously impossible using "normal" fingerings i.e. The Marriage of Figaro. In the past I have also had to use alternate fingerings because of the excessive clanking produced from a student-line feltless bassoon!

Many of us have discovered that some alternate fingerings or trills require a different embouchure. While learning how to play the famous solo from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, my teacher told me about going to the Popkin Bassoon Camp and hearing about playing through the side of the reed to make the high notes play better. Later, while playing the Mozart Concerto, I have had to drop my jaw almost completely out of alignment to play the trill for the Ab-Bb trill near the end. All in all, the performer must realize the embouchure also plays an important part in playing alternate fingerings or trills.

Unfortunately, finding what works for you (kinda like when making reeds) may take decades of playing to learn. Until then, I will suggest talking to other bassoonists, exploring other teachers or performers, experimenting for yourself, reading the throngs of books available on the subject and visiting various web sites.

Here is the address  to the IDRS page for some great fingerings all the way up to C#6!!!!!

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 What a bassoon looks like
If you expect to have a watered-down dictionary description of what a bassoon looks like--you have come to the wrong place! The bassoon comes in many different styles. No bassoon, by rite of bassoonistic-morality, should be exactly the same. I have seen bassoons in almost every tone of red, brown, black, orange and even green! I feel the bassoon should be the same tone of the wood it comes from (primarily Maple), you should be able to clearly see the grain and it should be coated with a glossy finish. Ultimately many bassoon manufactures alter the color of the wood with a cherry-red finish. This leaves the string players of an orchestra to wonder if their instruments are made of the same wood as a bassoon.

If a bassoonist had a dime for each of the times he was taunted because of the peculiarity of what their instrument looks like--they wouldn't have to worry about graduating from Julliard or Eastman debt free. "Burping bedpost...farting bedpost...bazooka..." and countless other juvenile descriptions help contribute to the unbridled self-consciousness of a beginning player-who eventually feels he must resign from playing. Ultimately, what a bassoon looks like is of no importance. This is only because it is proven to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing (sound-wise at least) instruments in the woodwind family as well as the most diversely characteristic. Every time I play I draw an audience of listeners wanting to explore my instrument. They love to press keys, cover the bell while I play, tinker with the whisper key, watch me take apart and assemble the instrument and just sit back and listen to what it sounds like. I have never seen this happen as much to, oh say, a clarinet, flute or saxophone player. The strange appearance of the instrument is what draws people near--and it is the sound that keeps them there.

What is a Bassoon? 
 A bassoon is a double reed instrument of the Oboe family. It has a 9’6” long, conical bore which curves around a “U” tube at the bottom and goes back up. The top of the instrument projects above the players head.

The bassoon is a relatively “new” instrument, having its first mention in ‘1574. It was originally designed as a straight instrument that was played by standing on a ladder!

Many developments have helped the bassoon evolve into what it is now. The most important being by Wilhelm Heckel beginning around 1830. Herr. Heckel and Carl Almenrader are responsible for developing the German system that is the more common type of instrument used today. Until then, bassoons were made of Grenadilla (wood), and looked and sounded like big oboes. Many fine bassoonists played these (bright sounding) French Bassoons, but eventually favored the darker and more resonant sound of the German instruments made out of Maple. Heckel also improved the key mechanisms, and constantly found more ways to make the instruments easier to play.

The bassoon has been used in the orchestra since the Baroque period. The early composers used the bassoon mainly as a bass doubling instrument, supporting the cello line. Gradually composers began to hear players that were capable doing more with the instrument, and, began to write much more interesting parts for the bassoon.
Bassoon (Heckle)
Contra Bassoon

Vivaldi was the first to really use the bassoon to it’s potential, writing over 38 concerti for it, as well as numerous other works. Beethoven and Mozart also wrote incredibly lyric parts for the bassoon, validating it as an important instrument in the woodwind family.

It is a staple in television cartoons especially the old Loony Tunes shows, and still can be heard on almost every major cartoon program anywhere. (Robot cartoons generally excluded). It is well known for it's character building qualities, which can be easily heard in The Sorcerer's apprentice and Peter and the Wolf.

This comic aspect does not however, limit the instrument to that stifling genre. In fact, the bassoon has been elevated over time to a special solo status, and employed when the solo needs to have great depth and meaning. A few famous examples include Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Shostakovitch's Ninth Symphony, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.

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Duets of Bassoon (Canons)  
Canons melodieux ou
VI. Sonates en Duo a:
by Telemann

These are REAL fun to play...its funny how they all seem to work out in the end! You can print them out an play them with your teacher or friends.
 (PDF File) You need acrobat reader to download this!